Wedding Resources

Wedding dress codes – what do they mean?

June 21, 2021
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Modern invitation suite in white and grey
Photography: Nadia Hung Photography

The invitation is here…but what do I wear?

The weather is getting warmer, flowers are blooming, and the day is getting longer. There are garden parties, beach get togethers, and of course the return of the wedding season. Perhaps you’re getting married this year (Congratulations!), or perhaps you’ve received one or one too many wedding invitations that you need to attend. Either way, we know that for each of these events there are specific things to wear or not to wear to make sure you are dressed well and appropriately for the occasion.

There are written and unwritten rules in the world of dress codes, and sometimes things can get a bit confusing. Not to worry, we have put together a quick explanation for you. Here is our perspective and understanding to a few of the more commonly used wedding dress codes, and what is expected for each one.

Gentlemen fixing his black bow tie
Photography: Kate Price Photography

Different Wedding Dress Codes

Smart Casual

While having the word ‘casual’ in the name of the dress code, there is still a level of formality to it.  There are a variety of options, but do steer away from jeans, runners, sweatpants, and other workout clothing. Smart casual usually is more informal, but with a focus on a neat and polished look without being overly dressy. For ladies, feel free to choose a sundress or pants with a nicer top. It’s not required for gentlemen to wear a jacket, but it will be best to choose a collar shirt or a button down shirt. Flats for ladies and loafers for gentleman are all acceptable for smart casual, but do make sure your shoes are well polished and not worn out.


One of the popular dress codes for wedding guest is semi-formal and this dress code is right in the area between casual and formal. It’s good to keep in mind that your outfit is something that is more formal than office attire, but more relaxed than an evening gown. Ladies can choose from dressy pant suits, a cocktail dress, or a fashionable knee-length dress. If the wedding is in the summer,  soft pastel colours or flowery patterns will be perfect for the season. As this is a more formal dress code, gentlemen are expected to wear dark coloured suit or a blazer with a shirt and tie. Find an outfit that is not only sophisticated, but also comfortable and fun for you.


The main difference between formal and a black tie, is with a formal code, wearing a tuxedo is optional. Unlike the olden days where it was more common to own tuxedos and a few evening dresses, nowadays people opt to use the formal dress code to signify a formal occasion without having it to be over the top. Ladies can wear something similar to the black tie dress code, but it is slightly more relaxed. If you would like to wear a cocktail dress, make sure it’s not too short and has embellishments to make it dressy. For gentlemen, tuxedos are welcomed, but not a necessity. Feel free to wear a formal dark suit and tie.

Lady holding a white wedding dress
Photography: Nadia Hung Photography

Black Tie

A black tie affair means it is time to take out your evening gown or tuxedo and dress up for the occasion! In a black tie dress code, ladies are expected to wear evening gowns with lengths that range from mid-calf to floor length. Do stay away from prints and patterns and keep to solid colours. As the name suggests, gentlemen are to wear a black tuxedos, or as known in the UK a dinner jacket, along with a white shirt, black cummerbund and bow tie. Going along with the tuxedo are the patent leather shoes, so don’t forget about those!

White Tie

Not a commonly used dress code but it is one that you don’t want to be underdressed for. The formalist of all the dress codes, this one is usually used for galas, state dinners, and very high end weddings. In terms of colours, gentlemen are required to wear a black tailcoat. However, they are to wear it with a white vest and white bow tie; hence the name ‘white tie’ dress code. Ladies are to wear floor length evening gown with up do’s and full makeup to finish off the look. Do keep in mind that this is the most formal and classy dress code, so dress up, but in an understated elegant way.

Choosing your wedding outfit

If you’re wondering if you’re underdressed for the occasion, it is likely that you are. When choosing your outfit, remember to take into consideration the season and location of the wedding. If you’re not sure about the dress code, ask the couple or someone that is involved and well informed about the wedding. While it may be different for other events, for a wedding, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed. As Coco Chanel once said “Being well dressed is a beautiful form of politeness.”

Click here to see more of the different outfits you might see for the different dress codes. If you are interested in other wedding related resources, visit our blog to see our other posts!

This post was first published on May 27, 2018.

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